After a police raid on a Kansas newspaper, questions mount

Police in Kansas raided a neighborhood newspaper and its writer’s house on Friday, seizing computer systems and different information — an motion that sparked outrage from First Modification advocates and that will have contributed to the demise of the paper’s 98-year-old co-owner on Saturday.

The raid unfolded in Marion, a city about 60 miles north of Wichita, and seems to have stemmed from a dispute between a neighborhood restaurant proprietor and her estranged husband in a divorce continuing.

The restaurant proprietor, Kari Newell, claimed that the newspaper, the Marion County File, had illegally obtained damaging details about a 2008 conviction for drunken driving and was getting ready to publish it, main a neighborhood choose to challenge a warrant authorizing police to grab the newspaper’s information.

The File, a family-owned weekly serving the small city of about 1,900, didn’t publish the details about Newell’s conviction for drunken driving and has denied that it got here by it illegally.

In an unbylined story, the File known as the raid “illegal” and stated it had led to the demise on Saturday of Joan Meyer, the paper’s co-owner and the mom of Eric Meyer, its editor and writer.

The newspaper stated Joan Meyer had been “stressed beyond her limits and overwhelmed by hours of shock and grief” following the raid, which concerned the city’s total five-person police power.

Police raids on information organizations are nearly unknown in the USA and are unlawful underneath most circumstances underneath state and federal regulation. “This shouldn’t happen in America,” stated Emily Bradbury, the manager director of the Kansas Press Affiliation, in an interview Sunday. She added: “Freedom of the press is fundamental to our democracy. … We’re not going to let this stand on our watch.”

Bradbury stated the newspaper’s information might have been obtained through a subpoena, a court-ordered command for particular materials that’s topic to authorized objections, not “an unannounced search.”

Eric Meyer went additional in a File information story on Saturday, describing the seizure of the paper’s computer systems and cellphones as “Gestapo tactics.”

The File had been actively investigating Police Chief Gideon Cody on the time of the raid after receiving suggestions that he had left his earlier job in Kansas Metropolis to keep away from repercussions for alleged sexual misconduct costs, Meyer stated in an interview on Friday with The Handbasket, a e-newsletter by journalist Marisa Kabas. Although the paper by no means ran the data, particulars concerning the investigation — together with the identities of those that made the allegations towards Cody — have been in a pc seized by police.

Meyer, a former Milwaukee Journal reporter for 20 years and professor on the College of Illinois for 26, is the son of the File’s late editor in chief, Invoice Meyer. His household purchased the paper in 1998.

The raid and its aftermath adopted a fast-moving sequence of occasions.

Newell, the restaurant proprietor, spoke at a public metropolis council assembly final Monday in an effort to acquire approval for a liquor license for her catering enterprise.

She stated on the assembly that her “private personal information” — information of her drunk-driving conviction and different driving violations — had been illegally obtained by a reporter and had been shared with a council member, Ruth Herbel.

The information might undermine Newell’s license software. State regulation prohibits issuing liquor licenses to candidates with felony DUI convictions.

She accused Herbel of “recklessly and negligently” sharing the data with the paper in violation of state privateness and identity-theft legal guidelines. Herbel denied doing so.

As an alternative, in a information story following Newell’s accusation on Monday, Eric Meyer wrote that the paper obtained the details about Newell from “a source who contacted the Record via social media and independently sent the material to both the newspaper” and Herbel.

The newspaper stated it verified the supply’s declare that the data had come from a authorities database, however determined to not publish it out of concern the supply could have obtained the information via illicit means. The paper additionally notified the county sheriff and metropolis police chief concerning the leak.

Meyer wrote that Newell had verified the accuracy of the data in a dialog with the newspaper instantly after the council assembly.

She indicated, based on Meyer, that she believed her estranged husband was behind the disclosure as a part of a divorce continuing through which he sought to retain possession of the couple’s autos on grounds that she didn’t possess a license.

In response to Meyer, Herbel — the councilwoman — alerted Marion’s metropolis administrator concerning the alleged information breach, advising him that police ought to examine.

Tensions between the paper and Newell had flared a number of days earlier than the town council listening to when Newell hosted a marketing campaign occasion for Rep. Jake LaTurner (R), at Newell’s restaurant in Marion. On the time, Newell requested police to bar Meyer and one other File reporter from the occasion.

Justice of the Peace Decide Laura Viar, citing attainable id theft and unlawful use of a pc, approved the search of the newspaper’s places of work and the Meyers’ residence Friday morning.

A state regulation handed in 2022 defines id theft as having the intent to “misrepresent [another] person in order to subject that person to economic or bodily harm.”

Nonetheless, the precise justification for the search warrant isn’t recognized as a result of the choose hasn’t launched the affidavit supporting it. The affidavit would have been filed by Marion County officers.

First Modification advocates proceed to query the raid.

On Sunday, 35 information organizations and press teams, together with The Washington Publish, wrote an open letter to Marion Police Chief Cody condemning the motion. “Newsroom searches and seizures are among the most intrusive actions law enforcement can take with respect to the free press, and the most potentially suppressive of free speech by the press and the public,” wrote the group, headed by the nonprofit Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Bradbury, the press affiliation director, stated her group would assist the File if it challenged native officers in courtroom. “No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, everyone should be concerned” about “government overreach and trying to silence investigative work.”

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